Legumes, known collectively as dhal, are—along with rice—the staff of life in south India, providing protein in a vegetarian diet. This recipe uses mung dhal, which has a distinctively sweet, earthy flavor and, when hulled and split, a golden color. See In the Kerala Kitchen for information on Indian ingredients.
- 1 cup hulled, split mung dhal (green gram beans)
- 3⁄4 cup finely grated fresh coconut or finely shredded dried unsweetened coconut
- 1 fresh hot green chile (serrano or thai), stemmed and split lengthwise
- 1⁄2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1⁄4 tsp. turmeric
- 12 curry leaves
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 1⁄2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
- 1 whole dried hot red chile
Put mung dhal in a large skillet, and toast over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until it turns golden and gives off a toasted aroma, 5–10 minutes. Transfer dhal to a strainer, and wash under cold running water to rinse off any excess dirt or dust, about 1 minute.
Put toasted dhal and 2 1⁄2 cups water in a medium saucepan, then bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until soft and most of the dhal has broken down to a thick, lumpy consistency, 25–35 minutes.
Meanwhile, grind coconut, green chiles, cumin seeds, turmeric, 6 of the curry leaves, and just enough water (about 1⁄3 cup) in the jar of an electric blender to make a moist, thick paste. Add coconut mixture and salt to cooked dhal in pan, and mix well, adding a few tbsp. of water if needed, until mixture has the texture of thick split-pea soup. Increase heat to medium, and cook until just heated through, about 3 minutes, then remove from heat.
Melt coconut oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat, add mustard seeds, and cook until they begin to pop; then carefully add red chile and remaining 6 curry leaves (the leaves will produce an explosive spatter when they hit the hot oil). After curry leaves sputter for a few seconds, add mixture to dhal, and mix well. Add salt to taste.